Good stories melt hearts. They will hold your gaze and keep you glued to the very end. Good stories can evoke a deep emotional response, by drawing you into the narrative. Poorly told or bad stories, conversely, do the opposite. By bad, I mean that the characteristics of good stories are not true of bad ones.
Good stories can evoke a deep emotional response, by drawing you into the narrative.
Whether good or bad, stories influence how we think about ourselves, others, and the world. This raises the question: how should we biblically engage stories as Christians? Journey with us from the land of scripts to the hills of screens as we discuss the value of thoughtfully interacting with stories, both good and bad.
Stories: Then, Now, and What Remains
Whereas the modes through which stories are delivered have evolved to include the streaming services, movies and dance—to mention but a few—storytelling is as old as the hills. Our grandfathers and their grandfathers used stories as vehicles to pass on history, values, and morals. This was often done around fireplaces, underneath a star-strewn sky. Today, a book or a movie is considered an excellent way to unwind after a long day or week. Increasingly, stories have become the cornerstone of entertainment.
Stories impact us because they reflect our hopes, fears, and fantasies.
Stories mirror reality. They hold a distinct and almost bewitching allure, from riveting tales of fearless warriors to coming of age narratives. They strongly impact people’s lives because they reflect our hopes, fears, and fantasies. For instance, we feel despair when the protagonist in a story loses the fight to an evil villain. The desire for good to triumph over evil lies deep in our hearts, which often tugs at our heartstrings. Indeed, stories are allegorical parallels to our society today, even to who we are.
What is the Ultimate Good in Stories?
The creative potential of storytellers and authors should move us to glorify our creative God, who has blessed human beings with this gift. The varied and increasingly artistic ways in which stories are told today are an ode to the God who made us in his image and his likeness. Remarkably, the redemptive narrative in the Bible is engrossed in poetry, history, song, and stories for one sole purpose: to praise God and point us to Christ Jesus (Psalm 102:18; cf. Deuteronomy 31:19; Exodus 17:14; Romans 15:4).
Jesus expertly used the art of storytelling to teach about the wonderful gift of salvation.
Jesus used parables to teach his disciples and followers about his kingdom. From the story of the good Samaritan to the parable of the sower, Jesus expertly used the art of storytelling to teach about the kingdom of God and the wonderful gift of salvation (Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 10:25-37). Jesus understood the power of a narrative and used it to build his kingdom, do you?
A Caution: Great Narratives aren’t Always Good
In today’s society, the concept of truth is becoming increasingly subjective. This is vividly portrayed in many contemporary stories. Self-fixated people continually reject the notion of objective truth. Stories are tools wielded to sway culture when the truth is only as valid as one’s desires (2 Timothy 4:4; Romans 2:8; Isaiah 5:20). Artistic prowess is sometimes employed to engage, envelop, and ensnare the hearts and minds of the audience. A glaring example of this is the movie industry, which has given and continues to give us both excellent and cringe-worthy narratives.
The power of story to sway the mind has never been more exploited than now.
With stories, the art of delivery is almost as important as the story itself. Hook lines and cliff-hangers are popular features in series, books, and movies. While these aides enliven stories, their power to sway the mind has never been more exploited than now. Stories can be shaped and packaged to elicit a particular response or leverage one ideology over another. It is no wonder that philosophies that were once alien and taboo have been mainstreamed by the influence of the media. We can all think about a book or movie we thoroughly enjoyed but didn’t entirely agree with.
Dear Christian, we would do well to remember that the devil, too, is a clever storyteller (Genesis 3:1-24; Matthew 4:1-11). His single purpose is to build his kingdom by turning God’s people from truth to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4; Titus 1:10-11). Throughout history, humanity has implemented the devil’s plans, and our context is not immune. Therefore, as Christians, we must take extra care as we listen to, read or watch stories lest we be swayed to dance to the devil’s tune (1 Peter 5:8).
A Word for Christians
Perhaps Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae might serve our conversation well. Like us today, the Colossians merged the day’s beliefs and practices with the Christian faith. Paul reminds us that our lives are hidden in Christ—who is life, wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3)—having been raised with him, we should walk in him (Colossians 2:6-7; 3:1-4). Further, he warns us to stay alert to avoid being taken captive by empty and hollow deceit and philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:8).
Paul warns us to stay alert to avoid being taken captive by deceit and philosophies of this world.
Whereas stories in whichever form they are told make for good entertainment, the Christian must not lose sight of the central narrative of scripture: Christ and his will. This world’s fashions and fads are fleeting. They’re not firm. On the other hand, God’s word alone proves a strong foundation and as such should be the mind’s daily meal. Thus, let us conform to God’s word and not the world (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 7:31).
Remember God’s Story as You Engage Others
C. S. Lewis put it well in his book Weight of Glory. He writes, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” In other words, just as one puts on reading glasses to read better or 3D glasses to enhance the picture, we should also always have the gospel lens before our mind’s eye as we engage with stories (Proverbs 4:23; Luke 11:34). We cannot afford to switch off our minds––worst still, keep our Bibles closed––and indulge our senses lest we enter through the wide gate.
We should always have the gospel lens before our eyes as we engage with stories.
The thrill and satisfaction of a good story is hard to resist. However, the next time you immerse yourself in a story and enjoy the journey it takes you on, keep Christ central. The emotions that movies evoke in us speak of the deep longings that only Christ can fulfil. The brokenness of this world makes the message of salvation sweeter than honey on a honeycomb. We have a sure hope that there will be redemption and a final resolution of the battle between good and evil one day. We have the assurance that our good God will triumph eternally.